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Parallel Worlds

Genre, Discourse, and Poetics in Contemporary, Colonial, and Classic Maya Literature

Edited by Kerry M. Hull and Michael D. Carrasco

Publication Year: 2012

Despite recent developments in epigraphy, ethnopoetics, and the literary investigation of colonial and modern materials, few studies have compared glyphic texts and historic Maya literatures. Parallel Worlds examines Maya writing and literary traditions from the Classic period until today, revealing remarkable continuities across time. In this volume, contributions from leading scholars in Maya literary studies examine Maya discourse from Classic period hieroglyphic inscriptions to contemporary spoken narratives, focusing on parallelism to unite the literature historically. Contributors take an ethnopoetic approach, examining literary and verbal arts from a historical perspective, acknowledgeing that poetic form is as important as narrative content in deciphering what these writings reveal about ancient and contemporary worldviews. Encompassing a variety of literary motifs, including humor, folklore, incantation, mythology, and more specific forms of parallelism such as couplets, chiasms, kennings, and hyperbatons, Parallel Worlds is a rich journey through Maya culture and pre-Columbian literature that will be of interest to students and scholars of anthropology, ethnography, Latin American history, epigraphy, comparative literature, language studies, indigenous studies, and mythology.

Published by: University Press of Colorado

Cover, Title Page, Copyright

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List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-xi

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pp. 1-17

Since the mid-1980s, incredible strides have been made in the linguistic decipherment of the Maya hieroglyphic script. Historical figures have emerged from the linguistically mute archaeological record, illuminated by narratives about ancient political machinations and dynastic...

Part I. Finding Continuities in Maya Poetics and Literature

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1. The Narrative Structure of Chol Folktales: One Thousand Years of Literary Tradition

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pp. 21-42

After listening to Chol storytellers for nearly thirty years, we came to understand that there is a narrative style, a canon that is followed by the best narrators and only marginally controlled by those who are not. Over and over again we noted the same features in stories told by...

Part II. Establishing Traditions: Hieroglyphic Literature and Poetics

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2. Syntactic Inversion (Hyperbaton) as a Literary Device in Maya Hieroglyphic Texts

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pp. 45-71

To identify and appreciate a figure that is based precisely on syntactical alternation, we must first know the normal syntactic structure of a given language, in this case the Maya hieroglyphic language. Syntax studies have a long tradition in studies of Maya hieroglyphic writing. In many cases these studies have anticipated...

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3. Poetic Tenacity: A Diachronic Study of Kennings in Mayan Languages

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pp. 73-122

The poetic and literary aspects of Maya hieroglyphic texts are just beginning to come into focus. In this chapter I trace the diachronic use of one of the most elegant poetic forms among the Maya: the diphrastic kenning—the pairing of two distinct elements to produce a metaphorical...

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4. The History, Rhetoric, and Poetics of Three Palenque Narratives

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pp. 123-160

The ruins of the ancient city of Palenque now lie largely concealed in the forested foothills of the Sierra de Palenque. However, Palenque was once a prosperous Classic period polity at the western edge of the Maya world. From a protected hillside plateau, the city...

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5. Understanding Discourse: Beyond Couplets and Calendrics First

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pp. 161-179

The study of discourse structure lies somewhere between grammar and meaning. It concerns devices such as topics, fronting, parallel phrases (couplets), highlighting, and narrative genres. These devices are used to signal what a text or a discourse is about and what the reader or listener can...

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6. Drawing and Designing with Words

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pp. 181-193

When the signs of the Maya script are locked into a relationship with syntax, the reader converts clusters, rows, and columns of marks into syllables, words, phrases, and sentences, reversing the sequence followed by the writer. There may be times when the process of reading a text...

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7. Narrative Structure and the Drum Major Headdress

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pp. 195-219

Classic period inscriptions refer to the accession of a lord into the office of king in a variety of ways. One accession statement refers to the fastening of a white headband on the new king (k’ahlaj “fasten, enclose, bind, or tie,” sak huun “white headband”) (Grube, cited in...

Part III. From Glyphs to Letters: Colonial Maya Poetics and Literature

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8. Creation Narratives in the Postclassic Maya Codices

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pp. 223-251

Narratives in the Postclassic screenfold books known as the Dresden, Madrid, and Paris Codices have received relatively little attention in the past, although scholars have recently begun focusing on them in more detail. They provide an important source of information about deities...

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9. Some Historical Continuities in Lowland Maya Magical Speech Genres: Keying Shamanic Performance

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pp. 253-269

The Yucatecan Maya genre of u thanil literally means “the word of” but is perhaps better translated as “incantation” (Gubler 1996; Roys 1965). U thanil are often performed for the purposes of curing, although incantations related to other domains of life, such as fire drilling and...

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10. Appropriating Sacred Speech: Aesthetics and Authority in Colonial Ch’olti’

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pp. 271-282

The task of religious conversion is not simply a matter of belief. It also involves the inculcation of new practices, a new aesthetic. To the true convert, much that was sublime must become diabolical; many of the actions and thoughts daily life so firmly inscribes into our bodies have to be...

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11. Poetics in the Popol Wuj

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pp. 283-309

In this chapter I will show how poetry and prose are interwoven in a text to provide fluency to verbal art. I will also discuss specific characteristics of parallelism as found in the Popol Wuj (or Popol Vuh), arguing that parallelism is not only the contiguity of two lines but that it extends further...

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12. The Use of Chiasmus by the Ancient K’iche’ Maya

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pp. 311-336

The presence of chiasmus and other poetic constructions may be useful in determining the relative antiquity of ancient writings composed by the K’iche’ Maya of Guatemala in the early Colonial era. A chiasm is created when in a given text the first element or concept of...

Part IV. Keepers of Tradition: Modern Maya Poetics and Literature

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13. Before Poetry, the Words: A Metalinguistic Digression

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pp. 339-374

As Don Rigoberto, a fifty-year-old exceptional storyteller, recounted a long narrative about the ancient history of the region of Rabinal (Guatemala), the etymology of the name of a particular lineage puzzled him. In the middle of the narrative, something else also emerged...

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14. Humor through Yucatec Mayan Stories

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pp. 375-400

Yucatec Maya people have a bold and bawdy sense of humor, especially when expressed through stories about authority. Humorous, slapstick narratives about wayward priests, statues that magically come to life and run away from irate husbands, and descriptions of...

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15. A Comparison of Narrative Style in Mopan and Itzaj Mayan

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pp. 401-448

Itzaj and Mopan Maya are members of the Yukatekan branch of the Mayan language family spoken in the Maya lowlands of Guatemala and Belize. The distribution of Yukatekan languages at the time of contact is shown on map 15.1. As indicated on the map, Itzaj and Mopan territories...

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16. The Lights Dim but Don’t Go Out on the Stars of Yucatec Maya Oral Literature

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pp. 449-470

The purpose of this study is to become more familiar with the most popular characters in contemporary Yucatec Maya oral literature and the symbols and motifs that help them accomplish their objectives. Focus will highlight the types of actors and actresses in this literature...

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17. To Speak the Words of Colonial Tzotzil

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pp. 471-475

In this chapter I present a variety of expressions found in The Great Tzotzil Dictionary of Santo Domingo Zinacantán, which I will give in literal translations of the Tzotzil, followed by their meaning in English. I begin with Tzotzil kinds of speech and words that...


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pp. 477-478


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pp. 479-480


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pp. 481-493

E-ISBN-13: 9781607321804
E-ISBN-10: 1607321807
Print-ISBN-13: 9781607321798
Print-ISBN-10: 1607321793

Page Count: 448
Illustrations: 20 b&w photos, 33 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2012